Breaking Down Boundaries – Connecting, Creating and Collaborating For Success

Is your organisation stuck in a ‘silo’ mentality? Do you find it a challenge to communicate across or between departments? Are people protective about the knowledge they have or reluctant to share information?

You are certainly not alone. As a business grows and matures it seems to be almost impossible to avoid building these artificial boundaries. These boundaries give structure and help to keep order and maintain control. On the other hand, they can restrict a company’s ability to change, and they limit creativity and constrict growth.

Product departments don’t talk to service departments; engineering doesn’t communicate with sales; marketing doesn’t talk to production; and no-one speaks to finance! And to make matters worse, the organisation is spread geographically – with people in different towns, in different countries and even on different continents.

Each of these departments, divisions or business units has a wealth of information, knowledge and ideas. Although some of it will be formally captured and catalogued, a great deal of it will exist only in people’s heads. Yet people are rarely allowed or encouraged to apply their expertise and insights further than a narrow range of topics. As a result companies don’t take advantage of this immense and powerful resource and do not tap into all the information, ideas and creativity they already have.

A recent survey undertaken by the Harvard Business Review identified information as a key strategic asset, of critical importance as the economy improves and companies prepare for growth. However only 36% of the respondents said that their organisations were currently well positioned to use information to help grow their business. The survey concludes that companies have to make better use of the information and technology resources they already have, and this will mean breaking down the walls in the data silos (technology) as well as the organisational silos (people).

In spite of these constraints, people have become savvy about creating connections outside the traditional organisational structure. Informal networks have arisen within organisations, sometimes in the form of chat rooms or websites and sometimes in the form of unstructured communities of interest or general centres of excellence.

Melissa Giovagnoli Wilson, who specialises in networking, or more specifically in helping organisations learn how to use collaboration tools to achieve business results, explains, “Through my research I became aware of an emerging trend of organisations seeking to capitalise on the growing number of ad hoc groups formed by employees. Equally important, I saw how large organisations were beginning to use both formal and informal networks to break down this silo mentality.”

Melissa developed Networlding, a seven step process which enables organisations to build lasting relationships across those boundaries. For more than a decade she has introduced Networlding to organisations like AT&T, CNA, UBS, Hewitt, Motorola and Disney.

“Networlding enables organisations to establish fully functioning horizontal networks of wisdom without requiring a major rebuilding or retooling of their organisational competencies.” continues Melissa. “In effect, creating these networks enables the organisation to cost-effectively transform and capitalise on those cross-boundary opportunities that are most often missed within their silo-environments. The networks provide incomparable value to the organisation, decreasing costs, maximising resources, optimising business development and accelerating performance improvement.”

As organisations prepare for the future, it is clear that those that adopt a constructive approach to sharing information and knowledge, creating productive connections and embracing collaborative partnerships will be winners.

We are delighted to welcome Melissa to the UK to share her seven-step process at an exclusive UK Networlding Bootcamp in October 2010. Find out more at or join the discussion on the Networlding Europe LinkedIn group at


Bud Boughton says:

Even back in the mid 70’s, IBM had an internal program called “One Good Idea.” The standard pre-addressed forms with envelope went directly to the HQ in Armonk/White Plains. Any employee could submit their one good idea to corporate HQ for review. Amazingly, ideas came in from all over the U.S. and abroad with the intent to improve sales, reduce internal expenses, distribute software releases more effectively and efficiently, etc. And yes, there were cash awards given for ideas based upon their value to the company and whether or not the idea was implemented. In fact, I will never forget seeing two data center managers get rewarded with $10,000 checks (which was the maximum reward for the “one good idea” program) at a GSD branch meeting in Cincinnati. Let me tell you, even though the award went to those two data center managers in our branch, it was a major morale booster for our entire branch! It made you realize what sort of great company you were working for.

Interesting that even then, some 35+ years ago, IBM recognized as a company that “good ideas” can come from anywhere in the organization. Sometimes it doesn’t take massive collaboration efforts or huge brainstorming sessions, just someone with a creative mind and one good idea to share with the company. The key is providing a vehicle to allow people to do just that. IBM had that vehicle for its employees some 35+ years ago.

Bud Boughton (former IBM sales professional)
Director of Business Development
Cornerstone Advisors, Inc.

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